20 unofficial symbols of Russia (PICS)

Kira Lisitskaya (Photo: Komsomolskaya Pravda, imageBROKER.com, Sergey Voronin, Danita Delimont, ZUMA Press/Global Look Press)
The white-blue-red flag and the double-headed eagle are the official symbols of the Russian Federation. But what about other, very original and authentic things that the country is most associated with?

1. Babushka

Grandmothers could be anywhere in the world, but ‘babushka’ is a purely Russian phenomenon. They differ in appearance by wearing the renowned “babushka-style” headscarf. And they are the most caring creatures (if you do not get on their wrong side…!), which sometimes becomes toxic, especially when they want to feed you!

2. Balalaika

The triangle-shaped string balalaika is probably the most Russian musical instrument you can imagine. It’s known for being played in Russia since the 17th century and actually is still popular and taught in musical schools. Many modern bands even perform cover versions of popular songs on a balalaika, giving them a unique Russian folk flavor.  

3. Ballet

Even if you’ve never been to Russia, you’ve surely had a glimpse of classical ballet. Well, we are lucky to inform you that it was, indeed, born and formed in Russia! And ‘Swan Lake’ composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky is probably one of the most popular and frequently staged ballets in the world.  

4. St. Basil Cathedral 

This church on the Red Square is probably the most recognizable building in Russia. It’s reproduced just everywhere when it’s about Russia - stamps, postcards, book covers and many more. But, did you know that it’s nine churches in one place? And that it actually has another official name? No? Then read more about it here.

5. Bear

Bears, of course, live around the world, but, for some reason, it was Russia to be associated primarily with them. There is a popular myth that bears often walk the city streets. Meanwhile, Western media has been stereotypically portraying Russia as a bear in cartoons for ages. So, why did the bear become a symbol of Russia? We investigate here.

6. Black Square

Do you know any Russian artists? Surely, you do. At least, Kazimir Malevich and his iconic ‘Black Square’ painting that makes people to this day argue whether it’s art or a trick. But, for the early 20th century, when he painted it, it was a revolutionary thing! Read more about what’s behind this avant-garde painting here.

7. Bliny 

Pancakes, or crepes, is an essential Russian food. They can be eaten with hundreds of fillings and toppings and each Russian has its own recipe which is handed down from generation to generation. There is even a whole week-long celebration of pancakes eating called ‘Maslenitsa’.

8. Borsch

Your first thought may be: Wait! Borsch is Ukrainian. But, believe us, the arguments about which culture borsch belongs to are as old as the cultures themselves. We tried to solve the contradictions - and found out how Russian borsch differs from Ukrainian here. 

9. Caviar

No matter whether it’s black or red… Caviar is perfect in any color. Salted cold “bubbles” are a perfect addition to other dishes and can be an appetizer on its own. Russians don’t bathe in caviar as you might think; most Russians associate caviar with New Year’s eve and don’t eat it on a regular basis. But, it’s always a great and tasty souvenir from Russia (And, by the way, there are many more types of caviar than just red and black!).

10. Churches and golden domes

If you are from the future, past - or even another galaxy - and accidentally showed up in some place in Russia… You would totally guess that it’s Russia, merely for all the golden domes everywhere! Here and there in different cities, Russian Orthodox churches are usually the most beautiful and attractive buildings, frequently spotted from a distance. By the way, do you know why they have the shape of an onion?

11. Five-pointed red star

One of the most recognizable symbols of the Soviet era is still seen in Russia, including the stars of the Moscow Kremlin towers. The symbol was featured on the Russian imperial military form and, in 1918, also became the main symbol of the Red Army. The star’s five rays symbolize the union of the world’s five continents in the struggle for freedom. Read more about other Soviet symbols

12. Kalashnikov

There is a joke that, no matter what the Russians do, they always end up with a Kalashnikov. This famous (and the most spread around the world) automatic rifle was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947 - and is still produced. What do you know about it? Check yourself with our quiz

13. Khokhloma

Khokhloma is one of the most popular of Russian-related designs. This red, black and gold pattern has been painted on the wooden tableware for over 300 years. The recognizable firebirds and floral ornaments became a truly Russian-style brand.

14. Kokoshnik

This traditional female headwear is known for ages and each Russian region had its own form and decoration. There are many types of kokoshnik, from small tiaras to giant ones that resemble horns. Read everything you need to know about this truly iconic accessory here

15. Matryoshka

The most iconic Russian doll resembles a lady in a shawl. Inside her wooden figure is a hidden doll of a smaller size and, in it, an even smaller doll… There can be from three and up to dozens of dolls inside, depending on the size of the largest. By the way, it’s not a traditional toy per se that Russian kids played with for ages and it’s relatively young, but has obviously gained a lot of popularity over the years!

16. Russian salad

While everyone around the world calls this salad ‘Russian’, Russians call it ‘Olivier’ and believe that it was named after a French chef who supposedly created it while cooking for the tsar family. In any case, during the Soviet era the recipe of this once chic dish was simplified, so that everyone could prepare it at home. And still it’s the main New Year’s dish. Here’s your ultimate ‘Olivier’ recipe!

17. Samovar

It’s no secret that Russians are obsessed with tea and this “kettle” is one of the reasons for that. It gathered the whole big family round to drink tea. Most samovars can take a lot of water and stay hot for extended periods, so tea time could last for hours

18. Sputnik

In English, ‘sputnik’ is a satellite, but this certain notion entered the English language as is. In 1957, with the launch of ‘Sputnik’, the first artificial Earth satellite, the space era of humanity began. Ever wonder what’s behind the story? Find out here.

19. Vodka

Cheers! No additional comments are needed here, because this word even enters the other languages in its Russian form (And Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev is even believed to have created vodka). By the way, read some tips on how to drink vodka and don’t get drunk

20. Ushanka hat

Remember the drunk Russian cosmonaut Lev Andropov in the blockbuster movie ‘Armageddon’ (1998)? He wore an ushanka hat, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Red Heat’ (1984). It’s another typical Russian headdress with historical roots. If you need a Russian-related costume for Halloween or a Russian-style party, this hat is a must! 

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